Sermon

Jonah 3:1-10

Cruise to Nowhere

Dr. Keith Wagner

This is a story about three groups of people headed in the wrong direction. First, there was Jonah, chosen by God to be a messenger to the people of Nineveh. His mission was to go there and preach a message of repentance. But, Jonah decided to take a cruise and go in the opposite direction rather than fulfill the mission God had called him to. Jonah was headed in the wrong direction by avoiding God and doing his own thing.

Secondly, there was the crew of a merchant ship headed for Tarshish. They blamed Jonah for the “perfect” storm they encountered and threw him overboard. In their mind Jonah had brought them bad luck. They knew he was a man of faith but he became their escape goat. Rather than be thankful for the presence of God in their midst they threw God out. They were headed on a course where God was a detriment to them rather than a savior.

Third, there were the people of the city of Nineveh. They were evil, wicked and offensive to God. They didn’t believe in God and God wanted them to change. They were headed in the wrong direction of self-destruction.

So, in the story there were three different groups all headed in the wrong direction, all in need of repentance. How was God going to turn them around? How does God turn anyone around who is headed in the wrong direction? What about us, are we headed in the wrong direction?

A SERMONWRITER SUBSCRIBER SAYS:

“Your work is GREAT and a true God-send. I am a Licensed Lay Minister, and work a full time job as well. I am in the pulpit now and then as a sub for a vacationing pastor or helping an iterim pastor. Some times the sermon prep time, unfortunately, is not as much as I’d like or the people deserve.”

Unfortunately, today’s church is somewhat like Jonah. Our mission is to go to places, like Nineveh, and preach the good news and make disciples of people who are estranged from God. But, like Jonah, we are either afraid to go or we have our own agenda. It’s more comfortable to look after ourselves than be concerned about people who don’t believe.

Do you really think Jonah actually cared about the people of Nineveh? Let’s take a closer look at the story. At first, Jonah avoided God’s request altogether. I can imagine what he was thinking. “What, preach to a bunch of heathen people? You got to be kidding.” God had to bring Jonah to his knees. He had to reach a crisis point before he was willing to do what God had asked. After he was thrown overboard by the crew of the ship, he then spent three days in the belly of a whale. But, had he not had this terrible experience, he may have never gone to Nineveh.

After being extricated from the great fish, Jonah is summoned a second time by God to go and preach to Nineveh. ( We learn of this in Chapter 3) Jonah goes into the outskirts of the city and preaches his sermon, a total of eight words. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Much to Jonah’s chagrin the people of Nineveh believed him and change their ways. But, this made Jonah angry. (Chapter 4) He really didn’t believe that the evil folks at Nineveh deserved God’s mercy.

I wonder how many of us would be happy if God decides to spare Baghdad and no force is ever used on the people of Iraq. Suppose they fully cooperate with the United Nations and eliminate their weapons of mass destruction. I believe many will be disappointed that we didn’t use our military forces to destroy them. Is there any reason to believe that God would not have mercy on these folks since he had mercy on the wicked city of Nineveh? I wonder.

Like Jonah, we are called to be ambassadors of God’s love, proclaiming grace, freedom and hope to all people, not just our friends. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we fully realize our calling. After Jonah finally got the message he headed in the right direction and fulfilled his mission.

Perhaps we don’t see ourselves like Jonah at all. Maybe we see ourselves more like the crew on the merchant ship. They were doing their job, attending to their mission, but were greeted with stormy seas. They determined that Jonah was the problem, thereby getting rid of him. He was excess baggage and they rationalized that by removing him from the ship, the storms would cease. It worked and they “feared the Lord exceedingly.” Thus they worshipped God for the very first time.

This seems a bit extreme and we don’t know what happened after that. All we know is that the crew recognized God because the storm ceased. They experienced an all-powerful God who was ultimately in control of the elements. To further validate the power of God, Jonah was rescued by a whale and eventually freed to continue his life. From then on, the crew, (not the ship) was headed on a new course.

Sometimes God makes believers out of us by doing wondrous acts. It is the role of the church to remind the world how God is working. However, we can’t assume that God wants us to get rid of idle passengers. No doubt there are some in our midst who are just going through the motions. Just as Jonah was rescued and ultimately given a second chance we can assume that those “extras” today will be given one too. Perhaps you are just along for the ride. Hopefully you will choose to be part of the crew and prevent catastrophic events.

Hopefully none of us are like the people of Nineveh. What is truly amazing about those folks, they only needed a short sermon (8 words) to be converted. It sure didn’t take much. This illustrates that the smallest act of faithfulness can make a difference. We should never underestimate the potential of our prophetic teachings and witness to the world. A single message changed them and steered them in the opposite direction.

God wants us to be in the business of transforming and changing lives, enabling people to turn in the right direction. We may have to hear the call more than once before we get it right. We may have to experience stormy seas to gain respect for an omnipotent God. Hopefully we will all see the value of a single message, which has the potential to turn an entire city in a new direction, a one-way adventure toward a powerful and loving God.

Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2003, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.